N OLDER gentleman living across the street shows himself peculiar in this world, addicted to speed and noise. Our world rushes and zips by, yet he stands unmoved and never in a hurry. The way he lives his life feels foreign as if he belongs to a different world than the rest of us. Behind the times, he is happily detached from modern conveniences. Instead of gazing at a screen, he spends each day soaking in his surroundings, moment by moment.
Each morning, with a coffee mug in hand, he strolls out on his covered front porch and sits down to read. Rocking slowly back and forth, he envelops himself in the daily newspaper. A torn and tattered ballcap rests proudly on his head. It reads “Vietnam Veteran” and is covered in ribbons, pins, and metals. After folding up the paper and placing it across his knee, he stops rocking. Closing his eyes, he listens to the songbirds sing their morning song. After what looks like reflecting, meditating, or praying, he gets up, goes inside, and dresses in work clothes. Then, like clockwork, he is out tending to the yard by 10 a.m. each day. Whether it’s pulling weeds, raking leaves, or mowing his tiny lawn with a push mower, he is painfully slow to complete each task. Still, he works steadily, taking pride in each step.
One particular day, the old man’s black pickup truck came flying down the street and abruptly stopped in his driveway. Outside, it had just started to storm. It seemed as if the man was concerned with safety and taking cover from the storm, yet he didn’t strike anyone as the fearful type. Something was wrong.
He hobbled out of the vehicle and raced up his porch steps, moving faster than his tired legs appeared they could handle. Pushing a step stool, he headed towards his American flag. Adamant about bringing it in as often as the rain came and lowering it to half staff when applicable, he struggled to get it down. Just as he had the final ring unclipped, the wind picked up tremendously; he lost his balance and took a tumble. The flag went flying into the wind.
Panic set in on the older man’s face as he watched the flag tumbling down the street. This man, who is never in a hurry, began racing down the steps and after those stars and stripes. The wind and rain were unrelenting. Combined, they felt like pins and needles pricking the skin. The red, white, and blue flag turned a muddy brown as it blew across the neighborhood.
Finally, the man reached his flag. He and the flag were soaked, muddy, and on the ground. There, sitting in a puddle, he wept. Tear after tear streamed down his cheeks, giving a warm sensation as it mixed with the dampness of the cool rain. All he wanted to do was honor his fallen brothers and sisters he served with, but he felt he had failed. He felt that back then and now.
That veteran man did get himself back on his feet, get home, and get dry. Life for him went on per usual. However, life was different for the few neighbors and bystanders who witnessed the heart-wrenching episode. They carried a new perspective and respect for those who had served our country. By the end of the week word got out, and every house on the entire street had proudly hung American flags from railings, porches, and flagpoles alike.
As Memorial Day approaches this year, we hope you carry a reinstated sense of honor and pride for those who have fought, served, and lost their lives defending our freedoms. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been held on the last Monday in May. Initially, it was in honor of those who lost their lives fighting in the Civil War, but it has evolved to commemorate American military members who passed in all wars. Whether you decorate a gravesite or fly an American flag, we urge you to take the time to appreciate our fallen heroes.-GN